Here is the next installment of my conversation with Reinhart. There are seven talks in the series. The remaining talks should appear in the Youtube sidebar.
Talking with Reinhart Jung about self-enquiry, part two
Reinhart: Did Bhagavan ask everyone to practise self-enquiry?
David: Bhagavan never gave unsolicited advice to anybody to do anything, except on one subject. Lucy Osborne, the wife of Arthur Osborne, sat in the hall for several years in the 1940s. She said, based on her experience, that with one exception she never once saw Bhagavan ask, uninvited, anyone to undertake any kind of spiritual practice. That one exception was to do pradakshina of Arunachala. She said, ‘Nobody ever sat in the hall and had Bhagavan turn to them, look at them and say “You must do this, you must do that, you must adopt this practice, you must stop that one.”’
The kind of advice you received from him would depend on how you framed your question. If you came to Bhagavan and said, ‘Bhagavan, I want to get enlightened. What is the quickest and most direct method?’ almost invariably he would say, ‘Self-enquiry or unconditional surrender to God.’ That’s a question for which, in Bhagavan’s world, there’s only one possible answer, but that necessarily doesn’t mean he’s prescribing it for you.
If you went to Bhagavan and said, ‘Bhagavan, what should I do?’ What practice should I follow?’ this is a more general question. Bhagavan might respond to such a question by asking, ‘What are you doing right now?’
If you said, ‘I am doing Krishna japa,’ or if you said ‘I’m doing puja to the murti in my puja room.’ he wouldn’t look down on you. He wouldn’t regard these activities as second-rate practices. He would more than likely say, ‘Very good, carry on’.
He himself was not a missionary. He wasn’t proactive. He never ever told people they had to change their way of life, their spiritual practices. He did, in a theoretical way, admit that self-enquiry was the most direct path, but he never imposed that particular view on other people. He never compelled anyone to do it. He was quite content for you to follow whatever practice you were already doing. But if, at any point, you expressed some dissatisfaction with what you were doing, or if you said, ‘Bhagavan, I’d like to try enquiry,’ then he would say ‘Very good, carry on.’
This is an aspect of Bhagavan character and personality that appears across the board. He didn’t like people to come to him for a decision. What he liked was for you to make your own decision and then present your decision to him for his approval. To take an extreme situation, we are now sitting in the old ashram office. His brother Chinnaswami was the manager here for many years. Bhagavan didn’t even appoint even his own ashram managers. Other people, the devotees in the ashram, would decide, ‘Who do we want to run the place?’ They would go to Bhagavan and say, ‘Bhagavan, we’ve taken a decision. We would like devotee A or devotee B to do this job.’ And Bhagavan would say ‘Very good’. So even in important decisions like these he expected the devotees to have a meeting, reach a consensus, come to him, and then he would somehow bless their decision by saying, ‘Fine, that’s good’.
When it came to spiritual practice, the same thing happened. If you came to him and said, ‘Bhagavan, I’ve decided to take up self-enquiry,’ he’d be delighted because he knew that this was the best technique available. But until you came to him with that decision, he wasn’t going to tell you, ‘You should do it’.
Reinhart: The word ‘self-enquiry’ may easily be associated with self-doing. Is it a fact that we can achieve Self-realisation through our own efforts?
David: Although Bhagavan said that self-enquiry was the most effective way to eliminate the sense of individuality, he never ever said that mind by itself could cause the dissolution of mind. He said that there is a power inside the Self that has to be activated, and that this power, ultimately, is the cause of the destruction of the individual ‘I’. This power cannot do its work unless the individual ‘I’ subsides and falls within what can be called the radius of power of that inner Self.
Sri Ramana said that as a result of making an effort to make the ‘I’ subside through the practice of self-enquiry, the individual ‘I’ shrinks and starts to sink into the Heart. To hold the attenuated ‘I’ in the Heart continuously is the most that the devotee can do by himself. That in itself is a very difficult feat, but that’s all that can be accomplished by the devotee’s own efforts.
What Bhagavan says is that once you start moving towards the Self, moving the ‘I’ back to its source, the power of the Self reaches out to you. Ultimately, if your mind is no longer interested in extroverting to look at and enjoy thoughts and perceptions, if there are no longer any inner tendencies that make the mind jump out, then the power of the Self will consume the individual ‘I’ pull it into itself, and definitively destroy it.
Sri Ramana said that the Self is always waiting inside you, waiting for you to turn inside and approach it. He said that the power of the Self is infinitely stronger than your own efforts, but he also added that the power of the Self is not going to do its work unless you turn towards it and start moving in its direction.
He occasionally quoted a verse from, I think, Bhagavatam. It says, ‘If you take one step towards God, God responds by taking ten steps towards you’. One implication of this is that God isn’t going to move a muscle to help you until you about face, turn 180 degrees, and take that first step towards Him. At that point the power of the Self, acting through the Guru, takes hold of the ‘I’ pulls it into itself, and dissolves it.
Reinhart: How can we tell if someone is doing it properly, that self-enquiry is successful in him?
Answer: Doing it successfully and doing it properly are two different ideas. To do it successfully means that you’ve realised the Self. If you realise the Self, you don’t need to ask the question, ‘Have I realised the Self?’ or ‘I am practising correctly?’ There is something absolutely self-evident about jnana, about being one with consciousness, that is absolutely incontrovertible. So, let’s dismiss the ‘successfully’ part of the question for now. That’s not something anyone needs to worry about.
But just about everybody asks the other question: ‘How can I tell if I am making progress?’ Bhagavan was asked this question once and he replied, ‘The extent to which your mind is free from unwanted thoughts, to that extent you can say you are making progress.’ I think that’s a really good and useful answer because anyone can keep tabs on the traffic inside his or her own head.
How much do I daydream? How much is my mind under control? To what extent have I stopped my mind from jumping out and attaching itself to other things? And how long can I keep it dwelling in this inner sense of being? These things are all noticeable by people who are meditating or doing self-enquiry.
I get a lot of emails from devotees who practice enquiry, and the most common complaint is: ‘It’s not working. Am I doing it right?’ I think the problem often is, when one starts doing enquiry, or in fact any spiritual practice, there’s an immediate buzz of some kind. You get some bliss, you get some peace, you get some happiness. There’s a kind of honeymoon period when everything goes very well, and this leads you to think, ‘That’s great! Another month and I’ll be enlightened.’
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Those initial experiences wear off, and what you’re left with often is a mind that appears to be even busier than the one you started with.
There’s something about enquiry that opens a trap door to your subconscious mind. All kinds of things start pouring out once you start the practice. So, having a busy mind doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it well or badly. It just means you have started a process in which hidden thoughts and desires start to emerge and have to be dealt with.
I would suggest a different metric for evaluating progress. You can tell if you’re doing self-enquiry well by how often you recollect that your attention has strayed from the inner sense of ‘I’ to the objects that the mind has latched onto. And then by how often you respond to that knowledge by withdrawing attention from these objects and putting it instead on the subject ‘I’ who is thinking or experiencing them. Taking attention away from perceived phenomena as soon as you notice your mind and attention are caught up in them shows the seriousness of your intent. It is this repeated commitment to rein in the flood of thoughts that shows you are making progress.
Each time you recollect that the mind is busy with thoughts and perceptions take it back to the ‘I’ who perceives the busyness. If you do this, then you are doing self-enquiry well. You are doing it properly. Incidentally, self-enquiry is a practice that shouldn’t be done with an expectation of results. Those expectations, if they arise, should be treated the same way that all thoughts are dealt with: withdraw attention from them and put it instead on the one who is thinking them.
Ultimately, all you can do is follow Bhagavan’s advice. Do self-enquiry vigilantly, persistently, as often as you can, and leave the results to him.
I don’t think anyone who is doing self-enquiry has a capacity to ascertain how much progress they’ve made: how far they’ve come, how far they have to go. That’s not your job. Your job is to keep tabs on the mind, to keep a check on where your mind is going, and each time that you recollect that your mind has gone somewhere other than the “I” thought, to bring it back to the “I” thought and hold it there as long as possible.